{ November/27/2014 }

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Pro Bono

Pro Bono Corner

Eileen Guinan, Pro Bono Coordinator

(From the March 2014 Newsletter)

Second part of story from last month about Wanda

Now this is where ACBA’s attorney Lianne Pinchuk and one of our members Lee Palmateer step in…

It was clear to everyone that Wanda was getting the run around and it was time to find the attorney for the COA even though the COA Board President refused to communicate with us or tell us who was representing the COA.

Lianne and I were sitting in City Court one Friday doing the Attorney for the Day pro bono program. We were looking at the docket and lo and behold, the COA was listed as a petitioner in 3 of the landlord/ tenant cases and, as with all petitioners their attorney was listed right underneath them. The attorney just happened to be an ACBA member and one of our primary presenters for the Attorney for the Day CLE presented each year to refresh our panel of pro bono attorneys. Although the attorney was not in court that day, I called him as soon as I got back to the office. I explained what the dilemma was and our difficulty getting cooperation from the COA Board to resolve Wanda’s flood insurance matters.

Needless to say, we now have the attorney representing the COA cooperating to resolve the issue and between him, the bank, Lee Palmateer and our own Lianne Pinchuk.  Iit appears that Wanda will be “made whole” again once all the numbers are crunched and the final agreements are made.

Coat Drive:

As I stood in front of the mounting piles of clothing that our members contributed, I literally shook my head in amazement. Each morning I would come in and the pile was bigger and bigger. People dropped off boxes and bags of clothing; freshly dry cleaned clothes, and dress shirts pressed and folded; leather coats and a fur coat; hats, gloves, scarves, hand crocheted blankets, in fact much of what we collected was new or still had tags. The warm generosity of the members was overwhelming.

Barb, Stacey, Rosemary, Lianne and I dragged 35 fully stuffed construction bags of clothing to a van. The county was kind enough to give us one of the elevators to use just for that purpose and then some of the guys in the building pitched in and helped. We really were a sight dragging these bags to the elevators and then dragging them through the building to the van (they really were too heavy to lift). We delivered the goods to Grassroots Givers. Because of the cold weather they had pretty much depleted their warm coat supplies for men woman and children. They couldn’t believe that this huge cargo van was stuffed to the roof with warm winter clothes. They gave us a tour of the old YMCA on Washington. Every inch of space is used to help the needy with clothing, furniture, dishes, books and other household items. It is set up like a store with things neatly arranged so people can shop with dignity. Anything a person would need to go from homelessness to setting up a home is offered. Please consider this organization when you are getting rid of any items others could use. They will gladly take them. The best part is that they don’t sell anything. Their clients shop but everything is free. You can see pictures on our Facebook page. Below is an email I received after dropping off another load of goods. If anyone needs a donation receipt for taxes.  Just drop a line to anyone in the office and we will get it to you. There are plenty of ways to help the underprivileged. ACBA covers the list from socks to pro bono representation. Now that’s something to brag about!

Dear Eileen,

On behalf of Grassroot Givers I would like to thank you for coordinating a warm clothing and coat collection drive.  I can't believe how many bags you collected in a short period of time, it was amazing.

Do you remember the black leather coat?  Yesterday, we had a customer come into the store; he needed something dry and warm.  He walked out with a beautiful, black leather coat, matching hat and gloves. He was so grateful to receive these items.    Do you remember the black and green suit?  It is on its way to Wolf Road for a job interview. So many of your donations have already been distributed.

As a small nonprofit, your donation means so much to us and our patrons.  We look forward to partnering with you again in the future perhaps on a book project or other volunteer opportunity. 

Many thanks,

Roberta Sandler and Mary Partridge-Brown Grassroot Givers Community Store &  Book Project 274 Washington Avenue Albany, NY 12203 (518) 817-5921 www.grassrootgivers.com https://www.facebook.com/GrassrootGivers


Thanks for all you do! My phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 113 and my email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.  If there is anything I can do, or anything I need to know, drop me a line.

Thank you from the Albany County Bar Association Thank you to Beth Carey and Conor Brownell of Ganz Wolkenbreit & Siegfeld LLP for providing advice to assist our Pro Bono programs this month and to Richard Weisz of Hodgson Russ LLP for helping out a client.  We could not do the great work we do without your help!

(From the February 2014 Newsletter)

Since I have started to write about people that come through our door, and the attorneys that make a world of difference for clients by doing pro bono work for ACBA, I have received many compliments about the program. Again, we thank you for your kind words and for sending people to us when they feel they have no place to go.

I have a woman named Wanda from the Dominican Republic who has been coming to me for some time now. Many of her challenges are because of a language barrier; she only speaks Spanish and understands little English. Not uncommon for this program, but truly an issue that stands in the way of equal access to justice. I know there are interpreters in the courts that do wonderful work but it is hard for many people to get that far when they can’t get through the first steps because we live in an often impatient world.

Wanda was having a problem with a condo owners association (COA) that caused a problem with her mortgage at Bank of America and a problem with her banking in general. Because she relies on other people to read and interpret her mail to her, she came in with piles of unopened envelopes from the bank. Some of you may be wondering how someone who owns a condo fits into our pro bono program. I questioned it myself at first. But Wanda bought the condo back in the 2006 time frame where almost anyone on two legs could get a mortgage with no down payment. She works as a monitor on a bus and definitely is among the working poor. She fits our program and then some!

Long story short, after a number of years the condo association stopped paying her flood insurance to the bank. The COA claims it was because they never received a bill from FEMA and if FEMA doesn’t send a bill, the area is not in a flood zone so they were not obligated to pay the flood insurance. Bologna!

The bank then took the money out of Wanda’s account for flood insurance which put her in the red in her bank account. She didn’t have any more money in the account than the amount for the monthly mortgage payment. Which until this point, she had never been late on ($442.00 per month). Wanda tried to communicate with the bank through one of their interpreters but she did not fully understand the bank’s position. All written communication was in English and she stopped opening the mounds of letters being sent her because of her reliance on others to read them. This continued for three years in which one year, after her pleading, the COA paid the flood insurance to “help her out” according to them “not because they had to.” This did nothing for the deficit her account continued to be in and the charges she accrued every month for being in the red. Wanda just didn’t make enough money to get her account up to a point where the late fees would stop.

The monthly accruals of charges from the bank triggered the bank to send someone to check to see if the property was occupied. The person checking for the bank knocked on the door of an unoccupied unit in the same building as Wanda’s unit and determined the property was vacant. The bank hired a maintenance company to mow the lawns twice a month for $75 a clip and then take pictures each time for $15 and check the empty unit documenting Wanda’s condo as vacant. Wanda didn’t own any lawn; it was all common COA lawn. The bank was hitting her with these charges monthly which ran up another bill of over $780. You can’t make this stuff up!

(From the January 2014 Newsletter)

Kismet : a power that is believed to control what happens in the future.
I am a strong believer in “what comes around goes around” or as a dear friend from the south used to say “What goes over the devils back comes back to lap him in the belly”.  My Kismet story:
I was on my way home to change for the party. Rosie and I decided to carry the things that needed transport down to my car so I could drop them off on the way. Rosie was going to walk down at 5 to set up and I would meet her there after running home to change. With our arms full of packages and our hand holding what our arms could not juggle we walked down the hall, into a man who was clearly looking for something. We looked at each other and Rosie said (already knowing the answer) “Can we help you find something?” He said “yes” as I held my breath, “the men’s room”. We gladly pointed him in the right direction and with that he said “and then I need to see someone from the Bar Association”. He intuitively knew that was Rosie and I and could see we were headed out with bundles in our arms. We told him we were on our way out to set up for our Christmas Party. Rosie and I looked at each other and both thought PETE. Same thing one year earlier on our way out to the Christmas party. I piled my stuff on top of Rosie and she headed down to the front desk to leave them to be picked up in a few minutes. I headed back to the office to listen to “Bill”.

Bill had a copy of the ACBA newsletter in his hand turned to the pro bono corner about Pete. He said he reads the newsletter online! As he apologized for interrupting our plans and said he could try to come back another time, I knew I had to hear him out. Sometimes you look at someone and just know they need to be heard. I will not go into what Bills issues are right now (although I will be making phone calls for legal assistance). During the conversation with Bill, Pete came up and Rosie pointed out the little memorial we have set up for Pete in the office. An hour and a half after listening to Bill’s story and doing an intake on him, he left. On Bill’s way out he turned to our memorial and said “Bye Pete”. Rosie and I smiled at each other and followed, picked up the packages at the front desk, went to the party and hence my informal wear. So this is my good reason for my lack of festive dress at the Christmas Party. It was not intentional but very KISMET and I was not going to miss my chance to thank Judge Stiglemier and Mike O’Connor for their commitment to pro bono.

I have to give it to Barb (the queen of fashion) when I told her the story as an excuse for not being dressed, she looked at me and in her usual Pollyanna way said “You look fine, enjoy the party, that guy was a sign from Pete!”

We are going to help Bill somehow. I will be reaching out to some of you over the next few weeks and ask again, please send in your Pro Bono Registration Forms. We really need you and so do a lot of other people.

(From the December 2013 Newsletter) 


The following was received via e-mail to our Pro Bono Coordinator:

Hi Eileen,

My girlfriend just handed me your article in the ACBA Newsletter and said you have to read this it's amazing you'll love it.  That's exactly what I did.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I loved it and just wanted to say that is so wonderful to know that people like yourself and coworkers are out there.  Thank you for all you do.  Others may not e-mail you but I know they are feeling the same.  You’re a wonderful person.

I know you will continue to help others and you’re so lucky that you’re in a position to do just that.  You must feel very rewarded at times, especially with Pete.  I hope you have the most wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you for sharing your story.  You've touched people's hearts like mine.

Fondly, Samantha Adams


(From the November 2013 Newsletter) Pete

(from the June 2013 Newsletter)

There will be no Pro Bono Corner this month due to the increase in volume of the needs of the indigent – therefore, Eileen has been super busy helping those she can.  Help Eileen by signing up today.  Her phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 13 and her email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.

(From the May 2013 Newsletter)

Happy Spring finally! Below is a piece written by one of the woman who volunteers for ACBA. This woman is someone who came seeking assistance months ago and asked if once she was on her feet she could volunteer for us. I have a hard time as a pro bono coordinator saying no to an offer of volunteering. I said sure. When she was on her feet she came back. Katie was a VERY important partner in working on the Law Day Run this year. She spent countless hours on the phone seeking donations from people. When we lost our sponsorship at the last minute it was Katie who went after Shoprite with phone calls emails and visits until they finally said UNCLE! Shoprite donated $1500 to the run with very little lead time. Katie has been a great contributor to ACBA. (And yes, she is straightening out my filing disaster) Thank you Katie!

By Katie B.
ACBA Volunteer
Someone once said that the most effective way to convey gratitude is to “pay it forward”... and so after being liberated from a particularly toxic marriage through the pro-bono divorce program, I felt compelled to be of service myself.
In December of 2012 I discussed volunteer opportunities with Eileen Guinan, and made a plan to spend some time working with the ACBA. I needed an opportunity to be useful; and she desperately needed some filing. What little I could give back to the program that had helped re-define my identity and reshape the direction of my life, seemed a small price to pay.
During the time spent here in the office I have had the pleasure of being entrusted with responsibilities that help the ABA run. In this tiny and busy “factory of brilliance”, I have truly began to learn the importance of team work. But the one idea that has resonated most, is that a concentrated and collective effort on even just one person’s behalf, can have a far reaching, positive, impact on the lives of many.

Just as the members of the Bar Association (you) invest their spare time and resources to the needs of underprivileged community members, so too, can the recipients of such services! In this way, it becomes a cycle of receiving and giving back. If this idea were embraced on a larger scale, more would be able to receive the services they need, and both client and service provider would never feel indebted or owed. It’s a powerful feeling to know you are giving of yourself selflessly, and what word could be better used to describe Pro bono? In my opinion, they are synonymous.

As always thank you for doing what you do and please stop in and say Hi to Katie when you get a chance, she is pretty dynamic. My phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 13 and my email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.  If there is anything I can do, or anything I need to know, drop me a line.

(From the April 2013 Newsletter)

I was really thrilled to get two completed Pro Bono cases in the mail recently. Both cases vetted 10 CLE credits each and one of them had a second attorney assisting who earned 1.5 credits. Both cases started last year.

A Hispanic woman came into the office last September with papers in hand. She spoke only Spanish. I did not understand her. She handed me a stack of papers. While looking at the papers and using a lot of hand signals, I was able to figure out who was who but not what was going on. I asked her to bring a friend with her who could interpret for us. She came back with a friend and I finally got her story.

Long story short, the woman owned an apartment that was being managed by a Homeowners Association. She was being sued for sewage that emptied into an unoccupied apartment. Because there was sewage outside her door, she called a plumber and the plumber “fixed the problem” which supposedly caused the sewage problem in the unoccupied apartment.

There were so many names and so many papers and so many people suing groups of people, I knew this was a job for superman! I called Brian Matula of Cooper Erving and Savage LLP and asked if he could look at the case. He said yes and that is the last I heard of the situation until I got a letter in the mail from Brian.

It said, if you recall your office referred Ms. Davis (name has been changed to protect the innocent) to me for Pro Bono representation in the above referenced matter. I am pleased to report that the claims against Ms. Davis have been dismissed in entirety.

Brian made a Motion to Dismiss which was granted by the judge. Since the motion to dismiss was granted Brian was able to obtain voluntary discontinuances from a Third-Party Co-Defendant who had asserted Third-Party Cross-Claims against Ms. Davis. Now this is the second language in this case I didn’t understand. That is why lawyers are lawyers and people without financial means to hire a lawyer need you!  Brian changed this woman’s life by stepping up for her.

By providing Ms. Davis with Pro Bono representation and keeping track of his hours Brian earned 10 Pro Bono CLE credits. A new associate, Jessica Vigars, in the firm earned 1.5 credits on the case.

The other was a landlord/ tenant case. It involved a man and woman and four children who were living in an apartment with lead paint exposure and a serious mice infestation. After many attempts to get things straightened out with the landlord the family moved out and stayed with relatives to stop the exposure of lead paint to their four children. They came into the office with a stack of documentation all neatly ordered with their attempts to resolve the issue with the landlord.

One would naturally think that an issue as documented and cleanly laid out as this was, could be resolved. But that is not how it happens in the real world for a lay person even if they are bright and articulate.

I called Christopher Amato of Sive, Paget and Riesel, P.C. and asked him if he would look at the case. He said yes and I forwarded him the documentation. Chris met with the clients and eventually the case went to trial because the landlord refused to settle and wanted a large judgment as the family had left their belongings in the house during this period of time. Chris tells me it was an interesting case and that he actually subpoenaed a person from the Health Department to testify because it was clearly a breach of warranty of habitability.

Chris was able to negotiate the judgment down, the family retrieved their belongings and they are living in a healthier environment now.  The couple was very satisfied because they realized they faced a much larger judgment than was ordered as keeping their belongings in the house was considered storage.

Chris earned 10 Pro Bono CLE credits for his work and said he would have done it for nothing. The reward is that the children were not affected by the lead paint exposure. He even told me to keep him on my Pro Bono list!

Thanks Brian, Jessica and Chris for helping these people. Without you the outcome would not have been the same!

Thanks for all you do! My phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 13 and my email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.  If there is anything I can do, or anything I need to know, drop me a line.

(From the March 2013 Newsletter) 
The CLE, “Things They Don’t Teach You in Law School” presented by Honorable Judge Walsh, Michael Friedman Esq, and Sherry McNulty, Esq. was great. The feedback from the attendees was very positive and, best of all. it vetted me 16 Family Court Pro Bono cases!  I learned so much by this process. We agreed that the representation should be primarily for support cases that were not eligible for a public defender through Family Court.

A week after the CLE, I get a phone call from a woman that needed help with what she described as a “very simple” support issue. She assured me she had asked for representation and was denied. I did an intake and she met our eligibility criteria. Based on the clients description of the “very simple” issue, one of the attorneys who had attended the training agreed to take the case and contacted the client. Long story short, the Family Court file that “didn’t exist” was as thick as an old dictionary. The “very simple” support issue was both custody and support and “very complex”. This had the potential to be a lengthy difficult case. The attorney and I discussed this and decided this was not the limited legal representation we agreed to offer. I contacted the client and told her based on the review of her Family Court files we would be unable to offer her pro bono services for her case as it proved to be much more complex than originally presented to us. The client understood. She is eligible for our pro se divorce program after the custody and support hearing is completed.

What did I learn?  Some people only tell you part of the story to get your assistance and then the real truth comes out when you start to peel the onion.  Some people will manipulate any system to get free help. Wanting to help people and provide pro bono services is sometimes daunting and not as rewarding as it appears. I am sure many of you are out there nodding your heads up and down right now. I get it, BUT, I still get plenty of calls from really deserving people who need your help. I can promise them I will look into it and try to find them a pro bono attorney, but I sure need you to be on the other end of the line nodding your head up and down that you will take a pro bono case.

I need to draw up a pro bono Client/ Attorney agreement that incorporates a lot of what this experience taught both the attorney and myself. With the assistance of both the attorney and Michael Friedman’s an agreement is coming together.

Thanks for all you do! My phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 13 and my email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.  If there is anything I can do, or anything I need to know, drop me a line.

(From the January 2013 Newsletter)

Happy New Year Folks,
I am going to start this one with a quote:

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Now I know after an opening like that you might expect me to go on about taking pro bono cases for the ACBA and helping to provide equal access to justice for the underprivileged. Actually, I am going to leave you alone about pro bono cases this month and let the quote above be my plea, knowing you may find a page in this year’s book of opportunity for someone that needs your legal help and can’t afford it.

The Albany Law School students have started doing their pro bono work at the Family Court Help Desk. It is a treat to have someone with me since I have lost all my volunteers to jobs! It’s a pleasure to see the students embrace the people at Family Court, listening to their stories and assisting them with the petitions. One of them said to me today “They sure don’t teach you this in law school!” I had to laugh to myself because I have seen things in Family Court that no education, other than life, could prepare you for.

Speaking of Family Court, ACBA is holding a Family Court CLE on January 31st at 4pm in the Jurors Lounge of the Judicial Center. The purpose for the CLE is so I can convince a bunch of you to take pro bono family court cases in exchange for the free CLE’s. More important than the free CLE is to gain a wealth of knowledge from the presenters, Honorable Judge Walsh, Michael Friedman Esq, Sherry McNulty, Esq. and David Cardona, Chief Clerk of Albany County Family Court. From the mouths of babes, “they don’t teach you this in law school”. Please save the date and let’s flood the room with people for this CLE.

To all of you who I have grown to appreciate and admire, have a safe and prosperous year and fill in many of those pages in this years book of opportunities with your stories of the pro……………………….oh, I almost lost myself……….Peace, Eileen

Thanks for all you do! My phone number is (518) 445-7691 x 13 and my email is eguinan@albanycountybar.com.  If there is anything I can do, or anything I need to know, drop me a line.

Albany County Bar Association

“Things They Don’t Teach You in Law School”
-- A Family Law CLE Primer & Pro Bono Training

January 31, 2013
Judicial Center Juror’s Lounge
6 Lodge Street, Albany
4:00 PM Registration
4:30 - 7:30 PM Seminar w/ Lite Fare

Honorable Margaret T. Walsh
Sharon Lee McNulty, Esq.
Michael P. Friedman, Esq.
David Cardona, Chief Clerk of Albany County Family Court

 CLE Credit: Three Hours of Skills
(Transitional: Appropriate for both newly admitted and experienced attorneys)

______ Free:  I agree to take two Family Court Cases for the ACBA
______ I will pay the $75.00 registration fee.

Name: _____________________________________________________________________________
Address: _____________________________________________________________________________   
Telephone: _____________________  E-mail: _______________________________________

Please return by fax or mail to:  Eileen Guinan, Pro Bono Coordinator
Albany County Bar Association
1 Lodge Street, Albany, NY 12207 -- Fax: 445-7511

(From the Nov/Dec 2012 Newsletter)

Now this is what I’m talking about; November/December Newsletter! It seems that as soon as I am done with one newsletter article, the next one is due. Happy Holidays to you all!

In October I wrote about the need for more pro bono attorney volunteers for fear of drying up the well I go to so often. My phone has not started ringing off the hook yet but trust me, I am prepared. And to make all of your lives easier, this issue of the newsletter has an attached Pro Bono Registration Form. Make copies in red or green and they will make great stocking stuffers for your firm and lawyer friends. They may become the hottest present on the market this year. Seriously folks, in this season of giving, why not take just one pro bono case for me. It will make a world of difference for someone who would be facing a judge without representation and most clients are so grateful for help. As a matter of fact let me tell you about one of ACBA’s clients.

Last May, a Middle Eastern woman walked into our office. She was shy, quiet and very withdrawn. She had a divorce judgment in her hand and did not know how to interpret it or what to do with it. I looked at it for her and explained what it meant. She was very difficult to communicate with as her English was limited, but we spent quite a bit time and even drew some pictures and she got the gist of it. She had been born and raised in the Middle East, married in the Middle East and had three children. 10 years ago they moved to the United States, bought a house and were living their lives with him working and her staying home. He would not let her work and would not let her learn English. At the end of 2010 her husband threw her out of the house. He kept the three children (very cultural I am told), and filed for and received a divorce judgment in early 2012. Although the judgment allowed her half the equity in the house her husband ignored


November 2014 NEWSLETTER

Albany County Bar Association
112 State Street, Suite 1120, , Albany, NY 12207 } Tel: 518-445-7691 } Fax: 518-445-7511
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